The Difficult Right…Developing and Riding the Northeast Alternate of the South Carolina Adventure Route

The South Carolina Adventure Route’s inception back in 2020 has given adventure riders and overlanders the ability to ride through the Palmetto State and see the variety of terrain that it offers. The South Carolina Adventure Route also known as the SCAR was developed by Kris Cox, an avid adventure rider from the Columbia area who wanted to piece together a route similar to the Trans America Trail but here in South Carolina. Overall, the route has been a success and has developed and united the adventure motorcycling community not only in South Carolina but also the Southeastern United States. With a mix of 60 percent off pavement and 40 percent on pavement the SCAR is a fairly easy route to ride on anything from a large BMW GS 1200 to a Kawasaki KLX 230. The route is all on public roads as it winds its way through small towns so provisioning fuel and supplies isn’t an issue.

The Northeast Alternate (red) as it traverses through the Northeastern part of South Carolina which provides an additional loop to the South Carolina Adventure Route (black)

As the South Carolina Adventure Route entered its second year of existence I asked Kris if I could develop an alternate route that traversed the Northeastern part of South Carolina. He told me to go ahead but he had two points of criteria, first it had to incorporate as much off pavement routes as possible and second it had to be near areas where a rider could moto camp. With the criteria in mind, I started to use several navigation apps and software such as Rever, OnX Offroad, and Goggle Maps. After a few days I had laid out a preliminary route that would provide riders with an alternate choice to ride into rural northeastern South Carolina.

Alex on his KTM 1290 Adventure just south of Marion

Fast forward a few weeks later and I enlisted two of my local riding buddies, Alex and Joe here in Charleston to spend a weekend riding the Northeast Alternate with me so I could proof the route and to get their feedback on it. Another reason why I brought them was that they had two totally different bikes, one was a larger KTM 1290 Adventure while the other was a Suzuki DRZ400 dual sport. With the two different types of bikes, I would have a better idea how the route would be on a bigger adventure bike versus a dual sport in terms of fuel range and weight in challenging terrain.

Heading north on the Northeast Alternate towards Marion

We started riding the Northeast Alternate at its southern terminus right on the SCAR in Jamestown. From here we crossed the Santee River and started working our way north to the town of Marion through paved back roads with a few gravel and dirt roads thrown in the mix. One of the biggest challenges that I found when developing the Northeast Alternate was the lack of off pavement roads in the southern part of the route. This was primarily due to the large number of swamps and wetlands near the Santee and Pee Dee Rivers which cross the area. For the most part anywhere that was near these two rivers was paved primarily due to flood control.

The one advantage to riding mostly on pavement in the south was that we were able to ride to Marion at a fairly quick pace. Marion was where we refueled the bikes and grabbed a quick snack before jumping back on the road. From Marion, the route leaves pavement for a significant distance by traversing a series of dirt roads that skirt east of the towns of Florence and Darlington. This section of the Northeast Alternate also leads into the Carolina Sand Hill’s region which was also our stop for the night. The Carolina Sand Hills are a unique area of the state that were formed around 6,000 years ago as a series of sand sheets and dunes that were blown into the area. The Sand Hill’s region is also where the Northeast Alternate’s difficulty level increases due to deep sand on the route that can cause havoc on those who aren’t prepared or used to riding in sand.

Joe and his Suzuki DRZ near Liberty Hill

After riding around 175 miles we pulled into the Carolina Sand Hill’s State Forest where there is a nice camping area on the shores of a small pond. As it was February, we were the only ones camping in the Sand Hill’s State Forest and it was a nice quiet evening to enjoy a fire and get some much-needed rest. That night I was also able to test out some new gear from Ben at Moto Camp Nerd. Since we were traveling light, I opted for a Yukon lightweight hammock which was a game changer for my moto camping set up, this was the first time that I had used a hammock while moto camping, and it was amazing and will lead to a blog entry down the road. The other piece of gear that I tried was the Nemo Disco sleeping bag. This sleeping bag has a rating for 15 degrees and even though South Carolina’s winters are mild it can still get pretty cold at night.

Not a bad way to spend the night

The next morning, we were up fairly early and quickly packed up the bikes and jumped back on the route. This day we would finish the final 65 miles of the Northeast Alternate and then jump on the original South Carolina Adventure Route and head south to Charleston. The final leg of the route was more sandy roads that passed through the Carolina Sand Hills before heading west towards the route’s northern terminus in Liberty Hill. The biggest challenge of the day was certainly a section of deep sand that we hit coming out of the Carolina Sand Hills where all three of us dropped our bikes. Fortunately, the bikes nor us suffered any damage and of course we had to take pictures.

A tired KTM and Triumph after a hard day’s riding the Carolina Sand Hill’s

Overall, the Northeast Alternate is a nice option for a day trip, or it can be looped into the original South Carolina Adventure Route for a multi-day adventure. In terms of technicality the route is manageable for an adventure rider with an average skill level. The toughest areas of the route are certainly in the Carolina Sand Hill’s due to deep sand and some swampy areas outside of Marion that have standing water. While the Northeast Alternate has more paved portions then I would have preferred it isn’t a bad option for a winter adventure when the Appalachians are covered in snow and ice and in the warmer months it’s still a fun ride. Fuel and provisions aren’t an issue as the route passes through several towns and for moto camping there are several options along the route as well. Wrapping up, the Northeast Alternate isn’t a bad route to get off the beaten path and to explore the northeastern rural areas of the Palmetto State.

At the northern terminus in Liberty Hill

One comment

  1. Excellent report and something I definitely wanna try. Being in the SE part of the US, I’m always looking for cool off-road ADV rides. Thanks!


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